I really wanted a few days to pass before settling on a conclusive answer to this one.
After Khabib Nurmagomedov successfully defended his lightweight title against Justin Gaethje last Saturday he emotionally retired, this we all know.
It was a truly unexpected dominate performance against Gaethje and made sure Khabib would retire at the top. He leaves the sport with a perfect undefeated record of 29-0 as a professional.
Straight away many began to hail him as the greatest of all time. Even UFC commentator Daniel Cormier who was working the event said as much. Now Cormier and Khabib trained together at American Kickboxing Academy but that isn’t bias on the part of Cormier.
There is a real debate to be had on whether Khabib is the greatest of all time. Personally, I’m not normally a fan of these debates but it’s a really intriguing one now.
The Greatness Of Khabib
When this argument comes up three names tend to come up. Those being Jon Jones, George St-Pierre, and Anderson Silva. Now Khabib is getting tossed into the mix and you can understand why.
Firstly, he is the greatest lightweight of all time and that can’t be disputed. As already mentioned, he has an undefeated record of 29-0 with a 13-0 record in the UFC.
He has only lost two rounds during that impressive run and is the longest reigning lightweight champion in UFC history.
Khabib holds wins over Dustin Poirier, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor, Rafael Dos Anjos, Edson Barbosa, Al Iaquinta and Michael Johnson. With most of those coming in dominate fashion.
I must admit after his most recent fight I thought we were witness the best to ever do it walk away.
However, recency bias is a very real thing. Sometimes you need to step back and look at whole the forest, not just the trees.
Cons Against Khabib
While I agree that right now, he feels like the greatest of all time, overall, I’m not sure about that.
Khabib’s current run is fantastic and he has looked unbeatable in his last three fights. We really must look at the entire body of work. When we do look at Khabib as champion he just didn’t have the longevity needed to be top of the list for me.
For some people that won’t overall sway their decision but for me longevity is key.
Khabib has defended his title on three occasions. While he did it against three elite fighters in the division that number pales in comparison with other fighters usually mentioned in this discussion.
Jon Jones has defended the light heavyweight title 11 times. He holds the record for most consecutive title defences in the division with eight and most overall defences in the division with those 11.
Jones also holds the record for the longest unbeaten streak in UFC history with 18 wins and a whole host of records during his time at light heavyweight.
As we already said Khabib is 13-0 in the UFC. Nobody can take that away but that’s not even as much as Anderson Silva’s record setting 16 fight title reign.
The GOAT Debate
In my own opinion in this debut I can’t look past GSP as the greatest of all time.
Jon Jones still has time on his side, and this reported move up to heavyweight could even put this conversation to bed. However, rightly, or wrongly when talking about Jon Jones his numerous misdemeanours are never too far away.
Indulge me with some nit-picking for a minute. While this isn’t the fault of Jon some of his opponents haven’t done him any favours.
Early into his original title run he faced aging stars like Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans. He arguably outright lost fights in some peoples view to Alexander Gustafsson and Dominick Reyes.
While he does have one defeat on his record that is a highly controversial disqualification against Matt Hamill back in 2009.
As I said the case of Jon Jones isn’t over. Personally, I’m a massive fan even though he makes it hard to be sometimes.
A couple of days ago he lost his top position as in the UFC pound for pound rankings to Khabib. Another thing I can’t argue with as right now Khabib looks unstoppable.
Anderson Silva is a bit of a sore point for me. He’s the man that got me hooked on this crazy sport and the first fighter to really grab my interest.
However, he hasn’t won a fight in over three years and even that stopped a winless run of five fights. With his win against Nick Diaz in 2015 getting overturned as Silva tested positive in a post-fight drug test.
His title run was incredible and while he is in my top three of greatest of all time, he isn’t at the top.
That spot must go to GSP. Again, GSP has been defeated unlike Khabib.
Losing to Matt Hughes early into his UFC career and shockingly to Matt Serra at UFC 69, stop giggling.
Some of his fights weren’t the most entertaining but to the purest of fans, he represents what mixed martial arts is all about.
George is a two-time welterweight champion and came back from a four year lay off to win the middleweight title in 2017. He is in the UFC Hall of Fame as all these gentlemen will be one day. Also like the rest of the fighters we are talking about today he holds a lot of UFC records.
He fought and beat the best of the best that stood up to him. Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck, Dan Hardy, BJ Penn, Michael Bisping, Jon Fitch, and Matt Hughes just to name some. All for the most part in the prime of their careers and all mostly decisive wins.
No controversies, no decline with age and a sting of non-stop big well-known names. With the latter being the biggest complaint about Khabib, that a good chunk of his UFC wins weren’t over well-regarded fighters.
Best Of The Best
Like I said at the start this normally isn’t a debate I’m interested in. All the people I’ve mentioned have graced us with some many excellent memories. They have giving us and the sport itself so much after years of personal sacrifice.
I love Anderson Silva for really starting my fandom with this sport, the story of Jon Jones isn’t over and on his day he’s a world beater.
It’s sad but understandable why Khabib has decided to retire. He can leave as the greatest lightweight in the history of this sport and as the top pound for pound fighter in the world. But for me the longevity as a champion will always hold him back.
He’s a top five all time great in my small insignificant estimation. I just can’t look past GSP. He isn’t my favourite fighter of all time, far from it in fact.
However, what he has done in this sport at the level he has done it proves to me that he is different gravy altogether.
Now that the emotion has somewhat simmered from the recent Khabib retirement I wouldn’t call him the greatest of all time.
That’s meant in the least disrespectful manner possible.
He is undoubtedly the best lightweight of all time and somebody that will be greatly missed in the world of mixed atrial arts.
Thank you, Khabib.